Common Wedding Rituals and What They Really Mean
These days there are many different “unity” ceremonies that couples will perform to symbolically unite them as a couple. Some of them I’m sure you’ve seen and others may be unfamiliar to you. While some are more spiritual and based on religious practices, others were born out of creativity. Here is a cumulative list of many of the ceremony rituals and the history behind them to give you an idea of the meaning they hold.
This is among one of the more popular ceremonies with couples today. In this case, two small candles are placed on the side of one larger candle. The bride and groom each take a small candle that is pre-lit and together, they light the large candle in the middle. This symbolizes 2 flames becoming one, just as their lives are.
To symbolize two families becoming one, often times the Mother of the bride will approach the ceremony space and light the bride’s candle and the Mother of the groom will do the same for his candle. The couple then performs the ceremony. Although it is uncommon where the unity candle originated, it is still a great way to show your loved ones the unity of your marriage.
The sand ceremony is very similar to the unity candle. Rather, other than a candle, the bride and groom each have vials of sand (typically of different colors) that are poured together into a larger glass container. It is said that once the sand is poured and combined, the sand can never be divided again, just as the sanctity of marriage can never be divided and broken.
The sand ceremony is very popular amongst the beach themed weddings!
Water Blending Ceremony
Instead of colored sand, some couples choose to substitute the sand for colored water. Simple water with food coloring can create a unique and colorful unity ceremony. Not only can you customize the colors to your wedding day scheme, but you can color the water to symbolize the core values you want to symbolize in your marriage. For example, as Wedding by Color explains, yellow water could represent happiness and joy, while blue water could represent friendship and health. Mixed together, the color green represents growth, stability, and harmony. You can customize this to whatever colors and representations you would like.
An interesting take on the water ceremony is where the individual vials of water have coloring in them and the center container has some water with a little bleach mixed in. When the couple pours the water together, the colors disappear and the water runs clear due to the bleach. This could have spiritual meaning where two lives of sin are becoming pure together under God. Or to eliminate religion from the ceremony, it could represent two individuals coming together to create a new pure start together.
Tie the Knot (Literally!)
According to POPSUGAR, “among the various ways you can refer to marriage, the phrase “tying the knot” is often heard. But where does it come from? Interestingly, tying the knot is actually in relation to one of the oldest wedding traditions that literally binds a couple’s hands together. Embracing hands has long been a symbol of love and the ritual of handfasting dates back to the ancient Mayans, the Hindu Vedic community, and the Celts in Scotland. According to BBC, “handfasting is the symbolic act of a couple’s hands being tied together, often with cords or ribbons, representing their union.” The most evidence of where this ritual originated was present around the Middle Ages, but handfasting was a symbol of engagement, not marriage. Prior to 1939, it was legally recognized by Scotland as a marriage practice in place of church weddings. Modern couples in Scotland still choose to continue the tradition today either at the same time or the same day of their legal union. The ceremony is often connected to nature and typically takes place outdoors. There are also other variations of tying the knot across different cultures and couples. The phrase “hand in marriage” also stems from this practice.”
Officiant Thomas Witham and Reverend Ann Fuller explain this ceremony as follows:
“Tying the knot is a primary wedding ceremony whereby a couple ties a fisherman’s knot as their ceremony’s Primary Option. As a primary option, it is used after the exchanges of vows and rings. The couple, using large colored cords, ties this knot as the officiant reads a commentary. That commentary appears below. The theme of the commentary is that, like a fisherman’s knot, marriage strengthens and supports the bride and groom through life and, like the knot, their marriage grows stronger under pressure. These two cords represent each of you as individuals – as the unique and special gifts you bring to your marriage. As you fasten your pieces together, these actions represent the the joining of your two lives into one common purpose. The completed knot represents your future, secure in the knowledge your relationship will continue to be strong, despite the inevitable changes life brings. Although the fisherman’s knot is one of the simplest to tie, it is also one of the sturdiest. As stress is applied, the knot becomes ever stronger. It is the goal of marriage to achieve a blending of hearts and lives, but like the spaces between these cords formed by the knot, let there also be spaces in your new life together, so each may encourage and nurture the individual growth of the other. I ask that you now pull on this rope to see it strengthen under pressure while still allowing us to see the individual cords – just as your support of one another as beautiful and blessed individuals strengthens your union. As you hold one another in mutual concern and shared respect, may you continue holding each other tightly in your hearts and form a strong bond, now and forever. Let this knot indicate the strength of your love and be a symbol of your unity from this day forward.”
Tree/Pot Planting Ceremony
This is a very eco-friendly, green option for a unity ceremony! Perfect for an outdoor ceremony whether it is a beach wedding, in a garden or forest. The Wedding Wish explains a tree planting ceremony as follows:
1) Set up at the altar to include potted tree (often taken from a special place, whether it be a parent’s home or a location special to the couple), two small buckets of dirt (each can be collected at the bride and groom’s respective homes or from each set of parents’ homes), and two gardening trowels. A small watering can be placed up front if desired as well.
2) Upon the mother’s entrance, each mother approaches the front and scoops in a small amount of dirt from their small bucket before returning to their seat
3) During a specific song or reading, the bride and groom each add the remainder of the dirt to the large potted tree. The couple can water the plant together as well at this point.
4) After the ceremony, take the potted plant, and transplant it at the newlywed’s home to symbolize putting down roots and longevity and strength within this marriage!
Pass the Rings Around
Unlike other ceremonies, passing the rings around is a way to include not just your parents but all the guests at your wedding. Martha Stewart Weddings perfectly describes it as, include guests in the ceremony by having each person bless your bands. Prior to this couple’s wedding, two friends took custody of the couple’s rings, tying them to two handkerchiefs (one of which was passed down for generations on the groom’s side). One ring went down one side of the aisle and the other went down the opposite, with every guest having a chance to hold the rings and bestow their blessings and positive thoughts toward the marriage.
Jaime Mackey in Brides explains a wine box ceremony is a wedding ritual in which, during the proceedings of the wedding ceremony, a bottle of wine is enclosed into a box. Some couples opt to add an extra layer of meaning within the ceremony by including love letters to one another alongside the wine, or by designating a specific occasion (such as a future anniversary) when the box will be opened and the wine will be drank. The first step would be to pick a wine of your liking. Be sure to choose one that will preserve well! Plus, most wines are stored better horizontally so be sure to make sure it will work well with how you plan on storing it! Lastly, incorporate the box into your ceremony. Have the wine and the box on display on a table near the altar, along with anything you wish to include in the box (such as letters to one another). When the time comes, have your officiant explain the significance of the wine box. Make sure he or she mentions the wine you’ve chosen and how long you plan to save the wine (or if you’re going to open it to help you get through a tough time or on another occasion). Then, the two of you will place the wine and any accompanying items into the box and close the lid. Your officiant should explain that you will be sealing the box, but save the hammering for once you’re back home, as a long pause in the ceremony for you to hammer the box shut could take a while! You could also choose a box with a latch and a lock, which you could more quickly close with a key mid-ceremony.
Love letters Ceremony
In addition to the wine ceremony, some brides choose to include love letters to each other to read when they open the box with wine on their anniversary.
You can slide the love letters in an envelope as well and promise to open them “x” amount of years later. You can even include a copy of your vows that you exchanged during the ceremony.
The Crowning is the highlight and focal point of the Sacrament of Holy matrimony as stated in Our Wedding Ceremony. The priest then takes two wedding crowns, or Stefana, and blesses the bride and groom in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and then places the crowns upon their heads. The Koumparos or Koumpara then interchanges the crowns three times as a witness to the sealing of the union. The wedding crowns, or Stefana, symbolize the glory and honor that is being bestowed on them by God during the sacrament. The Stefana are joined by a ribbon which symbolizes the unity of the couple and the presence of Christ who blesses and joins the couple. Through the crowns, the Christ establishes the couple as the King and Queen of their home, which they rule with wisdom, justice, and integrity. The crowns used in the Orthodox wedding ceremony also refer to the crown of martyrdom, since every true marriage involves self-sacrifice on both sides.
This tradition is usually associated with Hispanic and Filipino families. Lasso (sometimes called, “lazo”) or rope is placed around the bride and groom’s shoulders (groom’s shoulder’s first) in the form of an “8” (the infinity symbol) – after they have exchanged their vows – to symbolize their everlasting union. This is usually done by the officiant, however, family members can also take part in this ritual. The couple wears the lasso throughout the remainder of the service. It is sometimes made of rosary beads, white ribbon, orange flowers, fabric, silver, crystal or elaborately painted wood. It can also be placed around the couple’s necks, or wrists. If you have children; they may also be included as they will definitely be a part of the new family as described in Celebrate Intimate Weddings. The Catholic Faith Store online said, “this symbolic ritual is believed to have originated from the Aztecs dating back to the 14th or 15th century.”
As stated in Celebrateintimiateweddings.com, the stone ceremony or “oathing stone ceremony” embraces the old European tradition to add a meaningful highlight to your wedding ceremony. The Oathing Stone is an old Scottish tradition where the Bride and Groom place their hands upon a stone while saying their wedding vows. Called the oathing stone it was thought to be the best way to express your solemn promise in physical form. Taken from the ancient Celtic custom of setting an oath in stone, inclusion of an oathing stone in the vows can be deeply moving. Etching your vows in stone is a sacred symbol across cultures. In the Scottish tradition an oath given near a stone or water was considered more binding. In some areas of Scotland, the couple would carve their names on a tree or a stone. Some of these bridal stones still exist across Scotland. During the reading of the Bride and Groom’s wedding vows, they hold an Oathing Stone in their hands. It is believed that holding the stone during the reading of the vows casts them into the stone. In a more modern version, the Oathing Stone can be engraved with the couple’s initials in the middle, accompanied by the groom & bride’s initials and date of their wedding. The source of an oathing stone, what minerals are in it, it’s color, or other characteristics are less important than what is said over the stone.
Couples have opted to have seashells instead of stones for their beach weddings but placed the same sentimental value on the ceremony!
Another version of the stone ceremony is where guests will write a loving message on each stone, or simply make a wish on a stone and the bride and groom will keep the collection at the end of the day.
A rose ceremony can be performed after the exchange of vows. In this case, the bride and groom each have a rose that they exchange to one another that will symbolize their first gift to each other as a married couple. The roses can then be dried and preserved.
Roses can also be given to each of the bride and groom’s parents as a gift and uniting the families together.
Best explained by A Touch Above, First, you will note that our doves are pure white. This represents the bride and groom as they begin their life’s journey together in purity and with no regrets of their past. Second, a wedding ceremony begins a journey of two lives working together for life’s happiness. The actions of the doves demonstrate this beautifully. Once released, the doves fly higher and higher together as they seek their way home. While still separate, they work as a team until they can find their bearings. Once they discover the direction they need to travel, these beautiful white doves climb to greater and greater heights. Similarly, a bride and groom do not know what the future holds for them. Their path may change many times along the way, but with faith and love they will find their way together. Just as our doves have the instinct to find their way home, the wedding couple will always know where “home” is, as home is wherever they are together. T
To make your wedding the most special day of your life, customize your dove release with a beautiful poem or song to be read or sung at the time of release. This extra touch will awe your guests and turn your wedding into a day no one will ever forget. In addition, doves can be on display in a decorative cage for all guests to view before the release. Doves symbolize love, peace, happiness, and prosperity, and can be released outdoors as the couple leaves the church or during an outdoor ceremony. The trained white doves, ranging in number from two to 20, circle the couple and then fly away, denoting the newlyweds’ departure from their families and toward life’s new journey.It is said that if doves are seen on your wedding day it will assure a happy home, good fortune, and ever- lasting love.
According to handfastings.com;
A handfasting is an old Pagan custom, dating back to the time of the ancient Celts. A handfasting was originally more like an engagement period, where two people would declare a binding union between themselves for a year and a day. The original handfasting was a trial marriage. It gave the couple the chance to see if they could survive marriage to each other. After a year goes by (a handfasting was once believed to last a year and a day), the couple could either split as if they had never been married or could decide to enter permanently into marriage. Today, Wiccans and Pagans have embraced handfasting as a part of their wedding ceremony. A handfasting can either be a legal marriage (depending on state law), or a commitment for “as long as love shall last.” A handfasting ceremony can be tailor made to suit the couple. There are many variations of the traditional handfasting. After the bride and groom both declare their intent to enter into this union, the hands of the couple are clasped and fastened together with a cord or cords just before, just after, or during their vows are made to one another. The wrapping of the cord forms an infinity symbol. The handfasting knot that is tied is a symbolic representation of oneness between the couple. In a show of unity, they become bound to each other. Each Wiccan and Pagan path has different decrees concerning the color, length, type and of number of cords used to handfast the couple. One custom may have the couple facing each other, binding both pairs of hands of the bride and groom. Another custom is to have only the right hands, and another one of each right and left. There are many variations of the handfasting rite. It all depends on the bride, groom, and the High Priest/ess whom they chose to preside over their wedding ceremony. The handfasting ritual is a beautiful, magickal rite of passage. Many non-Pagan and non-Wiccan couples are adopting this old custom, much like when couples borrow from other traditions to craft their own ceremony to match their distinctive personalities.
Cleanse with Water
The Off Beat Bride describes the washing of hands in detail based on a real ceremony of one of their brides. It goes as follows:
Couple approaches a table with a glass bowl of water and two hand towels. Having flowers or lemon slices floating in the water is a nice touch.
Officiant: Today, in front of your family and friends, you start your life together anew as a married couple. As with any new endeavor, it is best to start with a clean slate — putting problems big and small behind you. You come acknowledging that the person you have chosen is not perfect, yet fits with you in a way no other person can. Whatever difficulties you may have experienced, today you have decided that your love is bigger than any of them, and you have chosen a life together. Water brings forgiveness and we all need forgiveness. We need to forgive others and we need to forgive ourselves.
Officiant: As you wash your hands in this bowl of water, forgive yourself and each other for any pain in the past. Allow yourself to be forgiven for your human imperfections.
Couple washes their hands.
Officiant: Allowing yourselves to have your hands dried by each other signifies your vulnerability. And we have to be vulnerable — it breaks through isolation and in our own vulnerability, we become more caring and understanding of our mate. In a loving and compassionate marriage, to achieve the greatest intimacy, you must have the courage to be open and vulnerable to each other.
They dry one another’s hands.
Whatever type of bride you are, there is a unity ceremony for you. Whatever style, religion, or venue you may have, there is something that fits everyone. Hopefully this cumulative list will teach you about the origins of some things as well as guide you in the direction of what might be suitable for your ceremony.